Volume 27, No. 8   Published by the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc.   March 2, 2018
Lawmakers wrapped up three legislative days this week as they cleared the “crossover” hurdle and completed Day 29 on Thursday . Now the table is set for the final stretch of 11 legislative days by the end of March. The Capitol is quiet today as legislators headed home Thursday afternoon. They will return on Monday for Day 30 where committee activity will be running at high-speed once again. We’ll be actively engaged as swift action will begin on many of the bills still in play. We have a full recap in the bill summary section below.
Click here to find the legislative overview we provided to Southeast AgNET as the session now moves into the final weeks.
Which of these issues is the most important to you as the legislative session moves into the final month?
Please select one:
1. Broadband expansion and support for economic growth in rural Georgia.
2. Opportunities to grow ag education in public schools.
3. Improvements to protect the GATE sales tax exemption program.
4. Revamping ag irrigation metering program for future reliability.
5. CUVA improvements and support for forest products in construction.
Monday morning initiates the qualifying period for elected officials and aspiring lawmakers to have their name placed on the ballot for the upcoming election cycle. This signals the start of another important political season that will usher in many changes to the House and Senate, in addition to critical statewide races.
Thank you for the support of our Georgia AgPAC as we work to support elected officials that are friends of our industry. We welcome all company or personal contributions. Please call our office at 706-336-6830 or click here to download the donation form to be a partner in this effort.  We are stronger together.
Council Membership Passes 1,100
We are pleased to welcome our newest GAC members in the list below. Many thanks for all of the support provided to our organization and member services.
Now that "Crossover Day" has passed, here is our abbreviated list of top legislative issues that are important for ag interests. These will have our full attention in the remaining weeks. Please let us know if you have any questions.
The GATE bill easily passed the House on Monday and now heads to the Senate. We suppor t HB 886 in its current form because it does not create additional burdens for retailers and provides a three-year card that carries a $150 registration fee. It will also improve the application and renewal process while boosting penalties to help tighten up the program. It has been assigned to the Senate Ag Committee.
Governor Deal’s SB 451 ag irrigation permitting and metering legislation passed the Senate on Wednesday and now moves to the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. You’ll recall this is a stripped-down version of the bill as originally introduced, but that could change moving forward. As our poll results from last week reflect, there is considerable interest in having permittees/farmers read the meters once a year , that issue remains unsettled in the bill. It transfers the ag metering program from the GA Soil & Water Conservation Commission to EPD. Keep an eye on this one.
Thanks for the many responses in our WATER POLICY QUICK POLLS
last week.

Here are the results:
"Regarding Georgia farm irrigation metering, which of the following do you prefer?"

1. Get farmers/permit holders to read the water meter each year. 59%
2. Keep state government reading the water meters on farms. 38%

Here are the top poll results for:
 "The state may stop paying for farm irrigation meter installation and maintenance. What do you suggest?"

1. State should continue to provide these services as they always have. 50%
2. Let farmer/permittee take it over and get the state out of it. 32%
3. The farmer/permittee should share in the expense with the state. 18%
In addition, we responded to reader comments about the GATE program in the The Moultrie Observer newspaper. In our letter to the editor, titled "The work of farmers often misunderstood," we outlined the importance of the GATE program for strengthening Georgia's rural economies. We appreciate them sharing our perspective in their circulation.
Work continues on the State’s big budget for 2019 by the House Appropriations Committee. It should be available for review in the coming days as it clears the House. Talk about this budget has been relatively quiet, but that will soon change as the numbers are released and the Senate begins their work. You’ll recall the $26 billion FY 2019 budget proposal is the largest state budget ever. We know UGA CAES and the Department of Agriculture have brought forward additional requests for funding , so we are interested to see how these will mesh with lawmaker recommendations in the weeks ahead.
Rural broadband continues to be one of the most discussed issues this session, but the paths of the House ( HB 887 , HB 336 ) and Senate ( SB 232 , SB 402 , SB 426 ) approaches have not come together. Bills by each chamber beat the crossover deadline Wednesday, but there is much work left to be done . Georgia EMC's are positioned well to play an important role in advancing this technology into more rural areas. We are encouraged by the progress, but look forward to this topic developing a more defined focus in the coming weeks that will likely come down to the final days of the session. No doubt, this is a priority issue for lawmakers this session.
Two key bills addressing rural healthcare passed the House and are now in the hands of the Senate. HB 769 establishes the Rural Center for Health Care Innovation , encourages physicians to practice in rural areas, and takes a number of other actions aimed at improving rural healthcare in Georgia. HB 827 seeks to promote funding of hospitals in rural areas of our state by expanding the current income tax credit from 90% to a full 100% .
Railroad infrastructure:
HB 735 wil l provide an income tax credit for investment in maintenance of railroad “short lines."  Our state needs this to help get more products on rail cars and off the roads. It passed the House and is now in the Senate Finance Committee.
Rural Planning:
HB 951 by Rep. Jason Shaw (Lakeland) looks to maintain the legislature’s dedication to rural Georgia by establishing the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation . The center would assume the responsibilities of the Centers of Innovation Agribusiness administered by the GA Department of Economic Development. It would also advance research and seek new ways of enhancing rural areas. This bill passed the House on Wednesday with overwhelming support and is now in the Senate.
SB 330 passed the Senate last week and will now get attention in the House Education Committee. There is a lot to like about establishing an agricultural education pilot program for elementary schools and we will continue to voice our support along the way.
SB 257 would provide farm operations better protection from false animal cruelty charges. Law enforcement officials would have to consult a Department of Agriculture veterinarian or an approved veterinarian before charges are filed in an alleged case of animal cruelty . It passed the Senate a few weeks ago and is now in the House Ag Committee.
House Ag Chairman Tom McCall's HB 885 would prohibit the Environmental Protection Division from restricting agricultural burning on a parcel of land over five acres. The burning must abide by the requirements in federal law and is limited to vegetative material. It passed the House on Monday and now goes to the Senate.
Led by the Georgia Poultry Federation, HB 723 would create an exemption from state sales tax on equipment for certain poultry diagnostic and disease monitoring services. It passed out of the House earlier in the year and will now be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee.
Bay Branch Farms Inc.
Cochran Oil Mill & Ginnery
Coley Gin & Fertilizer Co.
CSA Farms, Inc.
Curry Farm Supply Inc.
Embry Transport Inc.
Georgia Tobacco Commission
Georgia Seed Association Inc.
Hattaway Farms Partnership
Hazel Creek Cider, Inc. / Yearwood Farms, Inc.
Israel Farm Supply Inc.
J & B Irrigation Inc.
Lyle Farms, LLC
Pineland Plantation
Pitts Insurance Agency Inc.
Shellman Carriers, LLC
Swainsboro Stockyard
Vidalia Onion Business Council
Special thanks to our 2018 Star Sponsors. We welcome having GAC member companies be a part of this initiative.
Please call our office at 706-336-6830 or   click here for details . Thank you!
HB 373 would make several adjustments to CUVA. These include, clarifying that a residential area on the CUVA property shall not require a plat or survey and establishing a mechanism to recover attorney's fees should a court reverse a covenant breach ruling. This bill passed the House on Monday and is in the Senate Finance Committee. In addition, SB 458 is a follow-up from a change made last year allowing farm entities (LLC's and LLP's) to be treated as an individual when entering CUVA covenants. This bill clarifies that the same provision allowing individuals 65 and older to break a covenant at a reduced penalty to apply to farm entities who have a 65+ age partner, provided this person has been enrolled in the program for a minimum of thirteen years . This bill passed the Senate and is now in the House Ways & Means Committee.
Key hurdles in the House were cleared this week that would create a dedicated funding source for the protection and preservation of conservation land and for state operated recreation facilities. HR 238   and   HB 332   have been slow to move this session as they underwent a litany of changes to dial in on the funding mechanism for these program areas. As written, the “Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund” would siphon an estimated $20 million annually from the State Treasury for these projects. If passed, the proposed constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot and must be approved by voters.
In addition, SB 332 by Sen. Tyler Harper would create an outdoor mentor program administered by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This bill would develop a program where children and teenagers will have additional opportunities to learn responsible hunting practices, gun safety, and outdoor stewardship.  It now heads to the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
On Friday, Feb. 23, GAC and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black hosted a meeting with Congresswoman Karen Handel , Congressman Austin Scott (via phone) and a group of ag stakeholders at the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The meeting centered around the importance of the proposed federal H-2C guestworker program and the challenges faced by the ag and forestry sectors to find a viable workforce. We are encouraged by some of the discussions that are ongoing in the halls of Congress and the opportunities that exist with the advancement of this legislation. Reps. Handel and Scott provided helpful insight and listened intently to the ag industry. One of the big challenges is the issue of healthcare requirements for guest workers. The expense of such a mandate would make the program too costly for many who would like to utilize the program. We very much appreciate Rep. Handel and Rep. Scott for making time to meet with our group. Thanks for the participation by Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Urban Ag Council, Georgia Forestry Association, Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, Georgia Green Industry Association , Georgia Poultry Federation , and other ag organizations that are working together to get much needed visa labor reforms. 
Thursday was beef biscuit day at the capitol! Congrats to GCA leader Will Bentley and the Georgia Cattlemen's Association along with Georgia Milk Producers Exec Director Farrah Newberry and her team for hosting this annual event.
We were pleased to attended this week's Rural Caucus hosted by UGA's College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and the UGA CEAS Alumni Association. Dean Sam Pardue gave an update on the College and thanked the legislature for their work and the funds that were appropriated for much needed whitefly management research as well as their other requests.
Hosted by AgGeorgia and AgSouth Farm Credit, these workshops educate attendees on all aspects of their operation ranging from budgeting finances to risk management. The classes are all from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm with lunch provided and there is no charge at all to attend. The workshops are certified for FSA borrower credits as well. 
Jackson EMC Office
Hull, GA

Thornton Recreation Center
Rome, GA

Presbyterian College
Harrington-Peachtree Amphitheater
Clinton, SC

Blueberry Plantation Inn
Alma, GA

* The 2018 Georgia Agritourism Association’s Annual Conference will be held March 5 and 6. This is a great opportunity for people to tour Georgia Agritourism operations, network, and learn about the latest in effective marketing strategies, on-farm activities that work, and hear first-hand testimonials from agritourism operators about their success. Call 706-845-9085 or click here for more info and to register.
* The Georgia Peanut Commission and National Peanut Buying Points Assn. will be hosting Peanut Butter & Jelly Day at the State Capitol in the South Wing, Monday, March 12 , 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to noon. We are pleased to be a sponsor of this much heralded event.
* The Georgia Department of Agriculture presents the second annual Agriculture Awareness Week in Georgia, March 19 - 23, 2018. There will be a themed event each day of the week, all designed to better communicate the important role of agriculture. Click here for more info.
Committee meetings, videos of past meetings, and full session debates for the House and Senate are all available online.

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Missed a week? Here is a list of previous versions of Inside Ag to catch up:

2018 Inside Agriculture

This information is intended for members of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc. No part of this document shall be copied, edited, or redistributed in any form without express written consent from the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc.
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